This past week’s Torah portion, Shelach l’cha reminds us that we all have our own perceptions about what is a reasonable challenge. We can imagine ourselves like grasshoppers in the face of nephilim, or we can remain focused on our skills, strengths, and the vision that has been set forth before us. Choosing the latter does not mean that we ignore real obstacles. It doesn’t mean we proceed with overly-confident, rose colored visions of the future. No, it means we engage in the work, often time consuming work, required to meet challenge and overcome obstacle as best as we are able.
This annual meeting provides the opportunity to thank our lay leaders for doing just that – our executive committee (members of which are seated here and from whom you will hear), our Board of Trustees, and our Visioning for the Future committee. These are the leaders in our midst, who like Caleb and Joshua are willing to proceed forward with great effort and expenditure of time and creativity in order to help Temple Emanuel have a promising future. Please don’t take \their efforts for granted! Their work is for all of our benefit.
The end of a fiscal year is also an appropriate time to reflect on the successes and challenges of our congregation. Let me first enumerate just a few of the successes:
Shabbat morning worship: unlike many Reform congregations around the country, we have a regular gathering every Saturday morning, and we pray as one community celebrating milestones together and enjoying each other’s company. We create Shabbat community, week after week.
TESCA: Our Temple Emanuel Studio of Cooperative Artists not only bring a beautiful aesthetic to our midst, but more importantly TESCA is a modern and creative extension of Torah and gemilut chasadim. And, I’m proud to say that it is uniquely ours.
We have drastically reduced our operating budget, and we have done a remarkable job of reigning in deficit. When I first attended Board meetings in 2000, budget deficits were pushing into the 6-figure range. There is still work to do in order to get us to a predictably fully balanced budget, but the effort to get us this far in just a few years must be recognized as a success!
Our Religious school is vibrant and compelling. Our building is at our liveliest when school is in session. Our teachers are sincerely interested in raising up a new generation of Jews, our students are interested and engaged, and our program is continuing to be current, educational, and creative.
We have shared in each other’s joys celebrating weddings, Bar/t Mitzvahs, and baby naming. And, I’ve watched our members comfort and support each during times of challenge and loss, both communal and individual loss.
I feel great pride in serving this congregation, and the source of that pride is you: the members and the programs you support and prioritize. The vision of Torah coupled with social justice, and interest in worship that expresses our liturgy with integrity - this is what gives me immense pride as this congregation’s rabbi and cantor.
Are challenges still present – no question. There are nephillim that at times feel insurmountable and make us feel reduced to grasshopper size. From my perspective, I see two:
Friday night worship. As our Shabbat morning gathering has grown and become a stable fixture in our congregation (something that was not so 20-25 years ago), regular Friday night attendance has dwindled.
And 2: We face the continuing challenge of fostering Jewish engagement and making synagogue affiliation and involvement – involvement that translates into financial and volunteer support -- a priority.
We are not unique in facing these two challenges; they reflect national trends in suburban communities; and, I don’t have an magical or easy solutions to these two challenges. But, I don’t believe they are obstacles that should make us turn away or give up hope on synagogue life. It is clear to me that our successes far, far outweigh these challenges. I hope that it is clear to you as well.
As we continue our meeting, let us remain mindful of our leadership’s need of our support. Can we remain committed to the expression of Jewish values through the synagogue? As we offer our respect to the presentations our lay leadership has for us, may each of us be further inspired to continue our journey towards future promise, as a cohesive progressive congregation!
Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek – may we be strengthened as we proceed into a new fiscal year in our congregation.